Series shifts to Cleveland

By Henry Liao June 04,2018
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Series shifts to Cleveland

By Henry Liao June 04,2018
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THE reigning National Basketball Association champion Golden State Warriors have grabbed a commanding 2-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven 2018 NBA Finals.

The Warriors protected “home serve” with a pair of wins at the Oracle Arena.

The Bay Area squad, winner of the Larry O’Brien championship hardware in two of the last three years, took the series opener, 124-114, in overtime, which Warriors head coach Steve Kerr described as a “lucky” victory after some close calls in regulation went their way and a costly mental lapse by Cavs guard J.R. Smith with 4.7 seconds left when, after grabbing the rebound off teammate George Hill’s errant second free throw, ran out the clock thinking that Cleveland was ahead when, in actuality, the score was deadlocked at 107-all.

Stephen Curry topscored for Golden State with 29 points (11-23 FGA, 5-11 3-FGA) and had nine assists and six rebounds in 46 minutes. Kevin Durant, the 2017 Finals Most Valuable Player, struggled with his shots (8-22 FGA) but finished with 26 markers, nine boards and six dimes. Curry’s co-Splash Brother Klay Thompson contributed 24 scores (8-16 FGA, 5-10 3-FGA) and do-everything frontliner Draymond Green came within an assist of a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and five steals.

The Cavs were led by one-man wrecking crew LeBron James who collected a Finals career-high 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 48 minutes for his eighth 40 points-or-more performance in the 2018 playoffs that duplicated The Logo Jerry West’s single postseason feat with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1965. Teammate Kevin Love came out of the NBA’s concussion protocol to contribute 21 points and 13 boards.

In Game Two, Golden State led from start to finish in registering a 122-103 win over a dysfunctional and frigid-shooting Cavs.

Curry registered an NBA Finals record of nine triples on his way to a 33-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance. Curry, who shot 11-for-26 from the field overall, went 9-for-17 from the deep to break Ray Allen’s old league record of eight that he established in Boston’s 103-94 road triumph over the LA Lakers on June 6, 2010 in Game Two of the NBA Finals. (The Lakers, behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, went on to retain their NBA crown with a 4-3 decision and victories at the Staples Center in the final two games of the series).

Durant came out of a shooting slump, going 10-for-14 from the field (including 2-for-3 from three-point range) and chalking up 26 points, nine boards and seven assists. Thompson broke the 20-point plateau for a second time with 20 points (8-13 FGA, 3-8 3-FGA) while Green “only” had five points (2-4 FGA), eight reebies and seven hand-offs, and at-times-clumsy JaVale McGee started at center and gifted the Warriors with a dozen markers (6-6 FGA) in 18 minutes. Aside from McGee, reserve Shaun Livingston also was perfect from the field with a 5-for-5 clip for 10 points in 15 minutes of service for the Warriors, who went .573 (47-for-82) from the field, including .417 (15-for-36) from bonus-point territory.

Cleveland, which made a frigid .411 (37-for-90) of its field tries, got 29 points (10-20 FGA, 2-4 3-FGA), 13 assists and nine rebounds from James in 44 minutes but the burden-heavy star, like Curry, committed five turnovers (out of the Cavs’ 10).

For a second straight game, Love posted a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Hill and Thompson were the only other Cavs in double-digit scores with 15 and 11, respectively. Smith, the goat in Game One despite his 10 points (3-10 FGA), netted just five markers on 2-for-9 shooting.

The 2018 NBA Finals series site shifts to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for Game 3 on June 7 (9 a.m.) and Game 4 on June 9 (9 a.m.).

With the series odds in Las Vegas already heavily tilted in favor of Golden State even before the start of the best-of-three Finals, any recovery task by Cleveland becomes even more daunting with the team down 2-0.

In the past 71 NBA Finals, only four teams (out of the 33 series that have been 2-0 after two games) have rallied from a 0-2 series hole to capture the title.

These are the 1969 Boston Celtics (4-3 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers), 1977 Portland Trail Blazers (4-2 vs. The Philadelphia 76ers), 2006 Miami Heat (4-2 vs. The Dallas Mavericks) and 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers (vs. the Golden State Warriors).

None of the four outfits enjoyed homecourt advantage during those Finals. Only the 2006 Heat’s triumph came under the 2-3-2 (home-road-home) Finals format utilized at the time.

The NBA has reverted to a 2-2-1-1-1 Finals scheme since 2014.

The 2016 Cavs also became the first team (out of 33 series) in NBA Finals history to rally from a 3-1 deficit and secure the Larry O’Brien championship hardware.

Cleveland fell into a 3-0 hole in last year’s Finals against Golden State but prevented the Warriors from becoming the first team ever to complete a perfect postseason (16-0) by winning Game Four.

Still, the Dubs’ 16-1 finish was the best in league annals, eclipsing the 15-1 performance of the 2001 LA Lakers (when the first-round series was still a best-of-five).

No team has ever come back from a 3-0 Finals deficit to win the crown. Only once has a team rallied from a 0-3 hole to deadlock the count at 3-all. The Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) squandered a 3-0 lead in the 1951 Finals before whipping the comebacking New York Knicks in Game Seven on home territory.

* * *
When LeBron James racked up 51 points (19-32 FGA, 3-7 3-FGA, 10-11 FTA} in Cleveland’s heart-breaking 124-114 overtime loss to Golden State in the Finals opener last May 31, he became the sixth player in NBA playoff history to tally 50 or more points in a Finals contest.

The other players to turn in the trick are: the LA Lakers’ Elgin Baylor (61 points, Game 5 vs. Boston, LAL 126 vs. Boston 121, April 16, 1962), Chicago’s Michael Jordan (55, Game 4 vs. Phoenix, Chicago 111 vs. Phoenix 105, June 16, 1993), San Francisco (now Golden State)’s Rick Barry (55, Game 3 vs. Philadelphia, SF 130 vs. Philadelphia 124, April 18, 1967), the LA Lakers’ Jerry West (53, Game 1 vs. Boston, LAL 120 vs. Boston 118, April 23, 1969) and St. Louis (now Atlanta)’s Bob Pettit (50, Game 6 vs. Boston, St Louis 110 vs. Boston 109, April 12, 1958).

Only James’ effort came in a losing cause and in overtime.

* * *
Eight players are back in the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year.

Golden State – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala (Warriors will need him at some point in the series to make life hard for LeBron James)
Cleveland – LeBron James, Tristan Thompson (please don’t cheat on Khloe Kardashian) and Earl “JR” Smith IIII.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr has been involved in all four Finals while Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue is X-ing and O-ing in his third championship-round series in a row (David Blatt was the Cavs mentor in 2015).

The reigning titlist Warriors and the Cavaliers are the first two teams in any of the four U.S. major pro team sports leagues — Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey league and the NBA — to meet in four straight Finals series or championship games.

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Cavaliers uber star LeBron James is the 13th athlete in any of the four U.S. major pro team sports leagues — Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association — to make it to eight consecutive title series joining five Boston Celtics players during the era of Bill Russell (10 straight, 12 overall in 13 years and a league-leading 11 championships) and seven Montreal Canadiens players from the NHL.

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